Export programs help businesses take local products global

By Liz Segrist
lsegrist@scbiznews.com
Published May 21, 2014

A federal export assistance program helped Charleston-based TalkTools export their speech therapy tools and techniques to help special-needs children around the world.

Inside the facility at 2209 Mechanic St. in Charleston, about a dozen employees are assembling these therapy kits. Some are putting plastic straws into bags and others package decorative blow horns like the ones used to celebrate New Year’s Eve or birthday parties.

These devices serve as therapy equipment for special-needs children by helping them practice muscle movement to improve tongue retraction, lip protrusion, jaw strength and speech, and to help with drooling.

Antwaun Griffin, the U.S. Commerce Department’s deputy assistant secretary for U.S. field operations, visited TalkTools Tuesday to talk about the need for small businesses to think globally. (Photos/Liz Segrist)Antwaun Griffin, the U.S. Commerce Department’s deputy assistant secretary for U.S. field operations, visited TalkTools Tuesday to talk about the need for small businesses to think globally. (Photos/Liz Segrist)
 
TalkTools President Luke Blessinger said the U.S. Commercial Service’s export assistance program helped the company break into more international markets. (Photo/Liz Segrist)TalkTools President Luke Blessinger said the U.S. Commercial Service’s export assistance program helped the company break into more international markets. 
“These kits and therapies can assist a special-needs kid who has maybe never made a noise before,” TalkTools President Luke Blessinger said Tuesday during a meeting with federal and state export officials. “We had to find a way to expand our markets globally.”

TalkTools participated in the International Trade Administration’s U.S. Commercial Service export assistance program, which connects small and midsized businesses’ exports with international partners and buyers.

Blessinger said the export mentoring and assistance he received on breaking into foreign markets allowed his company to train hundreds of therapists and grow international sales in the past two years.

Through the program, TalkTools was encouraged to participate in the U.S. Commercial Service Gold Key business matchmaking program in China, which led to a new partnership and sales to that country last year.

The company also built business relationships resulting in sales to small distributors and therapists in Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Canada, Australia and Denmark.

“We want businesses to see that they are not just competing with neighboring states. They have to look globally. ... Every community has something they can and should be selling globally,” Antwaun Griffin, the U.S. Commerce Department’s deputy assistant secretary for U.S. field operations, said Tuesday during a visit to Charleston.

U.S. Commercial Service runs more than 100 export assistance centers across the country, including one in Columbia. These centers partner on the National Export Initiative, which the Obama administration launched in 2010 to help remove barriers for U.S. companies trying to enter new markets abroad.

Griffin said the initiative was born out of necessity when the recession hit in 2007 and U.S. companies needed more buyers for their products and services.

The federal government is gearing up to launch NEI/Next (.pdf) to help more U.S. businesses export to new markets.

The expanded program aims to provide information about which markets to target, make shipping easier, expand access to finance, promote exports as part of economic development and foster international business relationships.

Griffin said he wants the idea of global sales to filter into business schools around the country. He wants students to learn that making a business plan needs to include a process for entering, marketing and selling to global markets.

“Charleston is not just competing with the Upstate or Georgia; businesses here are competing with China, Mexico and Peru,” Griffin said. “We are trying to remove barriers to help these businesses enter new markets and export their products and services to them.”

Reach staff writer Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.

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